By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
No one passed more cars than John Hunter Nemechek in the Rinnai 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Nemechek’s NASCAR Xfinity Series debut was an up and down day as he encountered some early troubles. He ultimately rebounded from being a lap behind the leaders to finish fourth.
Nemechek fell a lap down early, after cutting a tire with seven laps left in the first stage. A strategy call by crew chief Mike Shiplett, allowed Nemechek to take the wave around in his No. 42 Fire Alarm Services Chevrolet Camaro SS. From that point on, Nemechek battled his way back through the field, climbing all the way to the fourth position by the time the checkered flag waved. He was also one of only seven drivers to finish the race on the lead lap.
“I have to thank Chip (Ganassi) for the opportunity and Fire Alarm Services for coming on board this year,” Nemechek said with a smile. “It’s a successful day, I thought if we could run top five I’d be happy. We definitely passed a lot of cars. It was a really fun, learning day. Shiplett and I have hit it off pretty good so far, making adjustments from on top of the box, improving the car as the race went on. It was a lot of fun being able to rebound from the back to the front. I just had to be patient. I wish there could have been a caution there so we could have come and got tires. I don’t know what we had for those top guys, but I think we could have given them a run for their money.”
The trouble actually started just 10 laps into the race for Nemechek. He was chasing his Chevrolet as it slid on one of the oldest racing surfaces on the circuit. Nemechek’s car got loose in front of Cole Custer, sending him up the track. Then he got hit in the rear by Elliott Sadler, sending Nemechek back into Custer. The contact resulted in Custer spinning and making hard contact with the outside wall.
“It was a long day for sure,” Nemechek said. “First of all, I have to apologize to Cole Custer. I didn’t mean to get into him off of (turn) Four there. I got tagged from behind and turned into him, sent him spinning. Sorry to those guys, but overall a really great day for the Fire Alarm Services Chevy.”
The top-five finish came in the second-generation racer’s debut. Nemechek will compete in the bulk of the NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule as his Chip Ganassi Racing teammates, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray are limited to a max of seven races each. He will also compete in select races in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for his family team, NEMCO Motorsports.